Juneteenth, also known as also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day, is honored on June 19th. Because Black people in the United States were initially excluded from the freedom we celebrate on July 4th, our leadership found it crucial to include Juneteenth as a day of observance and reflection.
The history of Juneteenth
If you are not familiar with the history of emancipation in the United States, Juneteenth might seem like a new holiday for you. This day has been celebrated since June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas were informed of their freedom by Union troops… even-though the Emancipation Proclamation received official presidential signature two and a half years earlier, on January 1, 1863!
Though many formerly enslaved people and their descendants continued to commemorate Juneteenth as a celebration of freedom, it went unacknowledged and/or forgotten by many communities throughout America. Fortunately, things are changing.
As of June 19, 2021, Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States. We’ve also seen more and more organizations and businesses allocate Juneteenth as a paid day off. These types of changes have resulted in more attention, conversation, and space to honor Juneteenth, including its impact on American history.
For those of us who are new to this holiday, questions and considerations have emerged, like:
- What do we do on Juneteenth?
- How should we celebrate Juneteenth?
- What should we teach and model for our children about this day?
- Is this holiday only for Black people?
Immediate Response clinician, Andrea Willis, and School-Based therapist, Katy Reynolds, are tackling these questions and providing answers about honoring Juneteenth, particularly with the children in your life. Together, we’ll explore why it’s crucial to view Juneteenth is an important day for all Americans.
As Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
9 ways to honor Juneteenth with children
Learn about Black history together
Black history is American history. We believe the journey to growth and healing includes taking ownership of our past. To do that, we must educate ourselves and upcoming generations.
Books and resources to help children learn about Black history:
- Top 15 Children’s Books for Black History Month
- 26 Black History Books to Read with Your Kids
- 4 free online resources for kids that celebrate Black history and culture
If you live in Richmond, we recommend visiting the kid-friendly Black History Museum, but there are many ways to learn online as well!
Ways to learn about Black history online:
- Visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s website for free resources
- Read up on ways to incorporate Black history into your child’s life
- Stay educated on the clothing Black people may wear on Juneteenth
- If you’re an educator, read up about the importance of diving deep into African American history
Visit historic or cultural sites that honor Black history
From the very first moment enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, Black people began influencing American culture. Through slavery and beyond, there are countless examples of Black contributions, resilience, and excellence which should be revered and celebrated.
Visiting sites that honor Black history is not only a fantastic way to better understand American history and learn more about Black culture, but it also provides tangible, financial support to Black organizations and communities that preserve Black history.
- For ideas of places to explore in Virginia, visit virginia.org/blackhistoryattractions.
- If you’re interested in visiting Black history sites in Richmond, VA, visit visitblkrva.com/tours.
Buy from Black-owned businesses
Did you know we have a racial wealth gap in America? As of 2016, the net worth of a median white household income was 10 times greater than the income of a median Black household. This challenge has been with us for generations because of policies and actions which intentionally limited Black families and communities.
On top of that, the impacts of climate change are projected to disproportionately affect communities of color. To help right the wrongs of history and to protect Black communities, we must invest in Black-owned businesses.
We recommend using Blocal, a free nation-wide search tool created by a young, Black woman from Richmond! This site can help you find Black-owned businesses to support in every state, including Virginia. If you’re looking for ways to support Black businesses in RVA, check out this community Google Doc with food, clothing, home services, and more! You can also support Black-owned restaurants in Richmond.
Attend community celebrations
By attending community events you can experience and learn from Black culture firsthand. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with others and build relationships. Just be mindful to avoid cultural appropriation and centering yourself. Centering is a term used to discuss who is assumed to be the norm or standard as well as whose needs/wants are being prioritized.
There are plenty of Juneteenth community celebrations happening in Richmond – check them out!
Make or try culturally significant food
You can learn a lot about a culture from things like what ingredients are used, preservation techniques, methods of preparation, when certain foods are eaten, and how foods are eaten. Where people are from (or where they’re ancestors are from) as well as what they’ve been exposed to and experienced, influence patterns of food choices over time within cultural groups.
Experiencing foods that are significant in Black culture is another way to glimpse into and connect with Black history, people, and communities. You can dive into a culinary Juneteenth experience by learning about, making, and buying food that is historically/culturally relevant to the holiday.
Notice your feelings and reactions
Particularly for white Americans, defensiveness and guilt can be quick and common reactions when learning more about Black history. We encourage you to acknowledge these feelings and explore what might be underneath them.
You may see shirts or signs that say “Free-ish since 1865” or “July 4th didn’t set me free”. These common Juneteenth phrases may make you feel a certain way. We encourage you to notice those feelings and discuss them with someone who thinks or feels differently than you do.
Do NOT stop at Juneteenth!
While Juneteenth was an important milestone in American history, it did not resolve systemic injustices against Black people. We encourage you to continue to learn about challenges faced by Black communities by listening to, investing in, celebrating with, and protecting Black individuals throughout the year.
Support Black mental health in your community
Black mental health matters, and it’s important to understand the role systemic racism and intergenerational trauma can have on Black mental wellness. Mental Health America states:
Historical adversity, which includes slavery, sharecropping, and race-based exclusion from health, educational, social, and economic resources, translates into socioeconomic disparities experienced by Black and African American people today.
Socioeconomic status, in turn, is linked to mental health. This means underserved communities are at a higher risk to experience mental illness. It’s also important to note that Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than white teens. In addition, 58.2 percent of Black and African American young adults 18-25 and 50.1 percent of adults 26-49 with serious mental illness did NOT receive treatment (study from 2018).
While it’s important to be knowledgeable about the gaps in mental health care, we encourage you to support non-profits in your community with a focus on providing mental health services for African Americans.
In Richmond, VA, ChildSavers serves hundreds of children at our clinic, local schools, and on-scene when trauma occurs. 91% of ChildSavers clients are people of color, and the organization accepts both Medicaid and private insurance. You can bridge gaps to Black mental health in your city by supporting local non-profits like ChildSavers.
In America, Black people were denied the right to vote until 1870. Even after this turning point, many Jim Crow laws intentionally denied or limited Black people’s ability to vote until the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965. Voting can be a way to honor those who were denied a voice in the policies that governed their lives. Not only is voting a symbol of power and freedom, it’s also a way to create impact by voting for individuals who will create or support policies that positively affect and protect Black communities.
Teaching children about voting helps them better understand ways they can contribute and create impact in their communities. By talking with children about the reasons behind how we choose to vote, we also increase their understanding of community needs and model our values.
Meet the Authors of this Post
Katy Reynolds, LPC, CTRP-C, is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and certified trauma and resilience practitioner (CTRP-C) on ChildSavers’ School Based Services team. She serves children and families by facilitating therapy as well as supporting school staff in navigating mental health challenges at the individual, classroom, and school system levels.
Andrea Willis, MSW, is a Supervisee in Social Work on ChildSavers’ Immediate Response team which provides 24/7, on-site therapy for children experiencing trauma. Andrea also serves several ChildSavers children and families in outpatient therapy each week.
ChildSavers is a Richmond-based non-profit that provides children’s mental health services and child care resources and training. We believe that all children can be safe, happy, healthy, and ready to learn.